The Ancient Chinese History of the Shih Tzu


As we delve into the fascinating history of the Shih Tzu, we discover a breed that has captured the hearts of many – from ancient Chinese royals to modern-day pet owners. The Shih Tzu’s majestic appearance and affectionate personality make it a beloved companion both then and now. Let us explore the origin, mythology, breeding, and care of this delightful lap dog that has stood the test of time.

Origin of the Shih Tzu

It is believed that the Shih Tzu breed has been around for over a thousand years, originating in China. The exact origins of the breed are shrouded in mystery and legends. One theory suggests that the breed is a cross between a Lhasa Apso and a Pekingese, both of which are ancient Chinese breeds. Another theory states that the breed has its roots in Tibet and was brought to China by Tibetan monks. However, despite many theories, the true origin of the Shih Tzu remains uncertain to this day.

Evolution of Shih Tzu Breed

Shih Tzu breed has evolved a lot since its origin. It has gone through numerous changes in terms of its physical appearance and temperament. The breed was originally much larger in size and was used as a guard dog. However, over time, as the breed became more popular among the nobility, it was developed into a smaller and more refined dog.

Shih Tzu Origin and Buddhism

According to another theory, Shih Tzu was bred by Buddhist monks as a symbol of good fortune. The monks meticulously bred the dogs for their unique appearance, intelligence, and calm personality. The dogs were highly revered and were often given as gifts to the Chinese royalty.

Royal Connection to Shih Tzu

Shih Tzus were highly valued in the Chinese Imperial court, and only members of the royal family were allowed to own them. The dogs were often kept in the Palace and were treated like royalty themselves. They were pampered, groomed, and fed the best food available.

Cross-Breeding of Shih Tzu

As the breed gained popularity, it was crossbred with other Chinese breeds such as the Pug and the Pekingese to improve its physical appearance. The breeding programs were highly selective, and only dogs with desirable traits were allowed to breed.

Despite the many theories surrounding the origin of the Shih Tzu, one thing is certain – the breed has a rich history and has been highly valued in Chinese culture for centuries.

Shih Tzu in Ancient China

Shih Tzu In Ancient China
As we dig deeper into the history of the majestic Shih Tzu, it’s impossible to overlook their roots in ancient China. The origins of this beloved lap dog breed are steeped in mystery and myth, but some fascinating history has been unearthed. From their close association with the royal family to their role in mythology, the Shih Tzu’s place in ancient Chinese culture is both rich and intriguing. Let’s explore the notable aspects of the Shih Tzu in ancient China, including their status as symbols of royalty and their unique breeding and training practices. [anchor link to /royal-connection-shih-tzu-imperial-china/]

Emperors and the Palace

The Shih Tzu breed has a rich history in China, especially during the Tang and Ming dynasties. During these times, the breed was highly valued by the Emperors and held a special place in the Palace.

The Emperors took great care of their Shih Tzus and had special attendants solely dedicated to their care. These attendants were responsible for grooming and providing food and water. The dogs’ care was of great importance and was a reflection of the Emperor’s wealth and prestige.

In the palace, Shih Tzus were treated like royalty. They were given luxurious living quarters and were adorned with expensive jewelry and finery. They were often carried in the arms of the attendants and were never allowed to touch the ground as it was considered disrespectful.

The Shih Tzu breed was so highly prized that its export from China was prohibited by law. The only way to obtain one was as a gift from an Emperor, which made them even more valuable.

As a symbol of their status, the Emperors often had their Shih Tzus painted into works of art, embroidered into silks and tapestries, and even carved into jade statues.

Today, we can still see the influence of the Shih Tzu’s history in China through museums that showcase the royal dogs’ extravagant accessories and art.

The Shih Tzu’s history in the palace demonstrates the breed’s high status and importance to Chinese royalty. It also illustrates how the dogs were cherished and taken care of by the Emperors and their attendants.

If you want to know more about the Shih Tzu breed and how it evolved over time, you can read our article on the evolution of the Shih Tzu breed. Additionally, if you’re interested in the crossbreeding of the Shih Tzu, check out our article on Shih Tzu cross-breeding. Or, if you want to learn more about the origin of the breed, you can read about its connection to Buddhism in our article on Buddhism and the Shih Tzu origin.

Shih Tzus as Symbols of Royalty

In ancient China, Shih Tzus were considered a symbol of royalty and were often given as gifts to foreign dignitaries. They were even referred to as “lion dogs” due to their resemblance to lion sculptures outside of Chinese palaces.

As the favored lap dog of Chinese emperors, Shih Tzus lived luxurious lives within palace walls. It was said that the emperors would often keep them in their sleeves to keep them warm and close at hand.

Because of their association with royalty, owning a Shih Tzu was once restricted to the upper classes of society in China. Commoners weren’t allowed to own them and anyone caught with a Shih Tzu faced severe punishment.

Their popularity among Chinese nobility also resulted in the development of specific breeding and training techniques. Breeders aimed to achieve the ideal appearance and personality traits of the Shih Tzu, including a gentle disposition and a flowing, silky coat.

Shih Tzus were trained to perform tricks and were often seen as performing arts partners to their noble owners. They were even known to participate in the dragon dance during Chinese festivals.

Despite their noble status, Shih Tzus were also revered for their protective instincts. It was believed that they could ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to their owners. Some even had special protective charms and amulets attached to their collars for extra protection.

Today, the Shih Tzu’s reputation as a symbol of royalty has continued to make it a popular companion dog, although it’s now enjoyed by people of all social classes. Its regal and affectionate demeanor, combined with its striking appearance, makes it a beloved breed by many.

Shih Tzu Mythology in Chinese Culture

The Shih Tzu breed has been around for centuries, deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and mythology. Here are some fascinating tales and beliefs surrounding these majestic lap dogs:

  • Protectors of the Dead: According to Chinese mythology, the Shih Tzu is believed to have the power to guard the souls of the dead. It is said that the Shih Tzu was often used to accompany the dead on their final journey, as it was believed that the dog’s presence would help protect the soul from evil spirits.
  • The Lion-Dog: In ancient China, the Shih Tzu was often called “the lion-dog”. This is because of their majestic appearance, with a long and dense coat, and a mane-like ruff around their neck. In Chinese mythology, the lion is a symbol of power and strength, and the Shih Tzu was believed to carry these qualities as well.
  • The Buddha’s Dog: Another myth surrounding the Shih Tzu is that they were the beloved pets of Buddhist monks in ancient China. It is said that these dogs were highly regarded for their loyalty, and were often kept at the monastery gates as protectors. The Shih Tzu was also believed to be one of the many dogs that accompanied the Buddha himself on his travels.
  • The Heavenly Dog: In Chinese astrology, the Shih Tzu is associated with the “Earthly Branch” of the Dog. According to Chinese mythology, this branch symbolizes loyalty, honesty and good fortune. It is believed that those born under this sign are well-liked, sociable and kind-hearted people. The Shih Tzu was often seen as a “heavenly dog” that brought good luck and happiness to their owners.
  • The Imperial Dog: Finally, the Shih Tzu was considered a symbol of royalty in ancient China. This is because they were often seen in the company of palace officials and members of the royal family. The Shih Tzu was highly prized for its beauty and its loyal and affectionate nature, and was often given as a gift to visiting dignitaries and foreign emissaries.

As we can see from these tales and beliefs, the Shih Tzu has played an important role in Chinese culture and mythology for centuries. These myths and legends continue to inspire the admiration and reverence that many people feel towards this majestic lap dog.

Shih Tzu Breeding and Training

Breeding and training are crucial factors in shaping the character and behavior of a Shih Tzu. These small dogs were highly valued by the Chinese nobility for their loyalty, obedience, and intelligence. Let’s explore how the ancient Chinese bred and trained Shih Tzus and how these methods still apply today.

Shih Tzu Breeding

In ancient China, the breeding of Shih Tzus was a highly guarded secret, and only the members of the Imperial Court were allowed to breed these dogs. The breeding process was carefully monitored to ensure the offspring would maintain the royal quality of the Shih Tzu breed. Breeding usually occurred between dogs from the same kennel or dogs from different kennels owned by the same Emperor.

To ensure that the breed’s royal lineage remained unbroken, a Shih Tzu would only be allowed to mate with another Shih Tzu of the same color. This practice resulted in a vibrant and consistent lineage of dogs with luxurious and soft coats.

Shih Tzu Training

Shih Tzus were trained to be obedient and obedient to their masters in ancient China. Training started as early as six months old and included basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, come, and heel. The most important lesson, though, was teaching the dog respect for its owner and the other members of the household.

Shih Tzus were also trained to be excellent watchdogs. They were taught to bark at strangers and alert their owners if necessary. The dogs were trained to recognize different sounds and associate them with specific commands.

Today, Shih Tzus are still highly trainable, but their training has expanded to include tricks, agility, and even therapy work. Positive reinforcement techniques work best with these dogs as they respond well to praise and rewards.

Ancient ChinaModern Times
Shih Tzus were only bred by members of the Imperial CourtShih Tzus are bred by registered breeders or families as companion pets
Offspring were usually mated with dogs from their own kennel or dogs from different kennels owned by the same EmperorShih Tzus are crossbred with other small breeds to create designer dogs
Dogs were trained to be obedient and respectful of their ownersShih Tzus are trained in obedience, agility, and even therapy work

Breeding and training have changed significantly since ancient China, but the principles remain the same. Shih Tzu breeding must be carefully monitored to preserve the breed’s quality and lineage, while positive reinforcement training is essential to shaping a well-behaved, intelligent, and happy Shih Tzu companion.

Shih Tzu in Modern Times

Shih Tzu In Modern Times
As we fast-forward to the present day, the majestic Shih Tzu has continued to capture the hearts of dog lovers all over the world. From being the treasured lap dogs of ancient Chinese emperors to becoming beloved companions in modern times, the Shih Tzu breed has come a long way. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of the Shih Tzu in today’s world and how it has cemented its place in popular culture.

Spread Across the World

The Shih Tzu has had a long and fascinating history, with roots tracing back to ancient China. Over the years, this majestic lap dog has become a beloved pet around the world. Let’s take a closer look at the spread of the Shih Tzu across the globe.

The Shih Tzu’s Journey Beyond China

The Shih Tzu was originally kept as a lap dog by members of the Chinese royal family. However, as trade routes opened up and international relations developed, the breed began to spread beyond China’s borders. In the early 20th century, several Shih Tzus were brought to England, where they quickly gained popularity in high society circles.

Popularity in the United States of America

The Shih Tzu was officially recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1969, setting the stage for the breed’s eventual widespread popularity in the United States. Today, the Shih Tzu is among the most popular toy dog breeds in the country, known for its sweet temperament, distinctive appearance, and ease of care.

Shih Tzus in Other Parts of the World

The popularity of the Shih Tzu continues to grow around the world. In Australia and New Zealand, the breed is a beloved pet among families and individuals alike. In Japan, the Shih Tzu is often featured in commercials and advertisements due to its adorable appearance. Other countries, from Brazil to Russia to Canada, also have thriving Shih Tzu communities.

The Shih Tzu’s Global Appeal

So what is it about the Shih Tzu that has made it such a beloved breed around the world? For one, their beautiful, distinctive appearance is instantly recognizable and universally charming. Their friendly, affectionate temperaments also make them great family pets, as they get along well with children and other animals. And their small size makes them well-suited for apartment living or homes with limited space.

The Shih Tzu’s journey from ancient China to homes around the world is a testament to their enduring popularity and appeal as a companion animal.

Shih Tzu in Popular Culture

The Shih Tzu, known for their cuteness and loyalty, has also become a well-known breed in popular culture. From movies and TV shows to books and social media, the Shih Tzu has made its mark in the entertainment industry.

One of the most famous Shih Tzus in popular culture is Gidget, the Taco Bell spokesperson during the late 1990s and early 2000s. With her catchy slogan “¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!” (which translates to “I want Taco Bell!”), Gidget quickly became a household name and even had her own merchandise line.

Another memorable Shih Tzu in pop culture is Sam from the movie “Teeth”. Sam was portrayed as a tough dog who protected the young female protagonist from danger. Sam’s strong and protective personality made him a fan favorite.

The Shih Tzu has also been featured in many children’s books, including the “I Spy” series where a Shih Tzu named Max is portrayed as a funny and loveable character.

In recent years, social media has played a big role in popularizing the Shih Tzu breed. Many Instagram accounts featuring cute and fashionable Shih Tzus have gained thousands of followers. Some of these accounts include @teddybearyorkie, @loki_the_shihtzu, and @mr_rodgers_the_shihtzu.

The Shih Tzu’s adorable appearance and friendly personality have made them a favorite in popular culture. Whether it’s commercials or social media, this majestic lap dog has found its way into the hearts of many. Check out the table below to see some popular Shih Tzus in pop culture:

GidgetTaco Bell CommercialsThe famous “¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!” dog
SamTeeth (2007 film)Protective dog who fought off danger
MaxI Spy seriesFunny and loveable character
@teddybearyorkieInstagramInstagram account featuring a cute and fashionable Shih Tzu
@loki_the_shihtzuInstagramInstagram account featuring a cute and playful Shih Tzu
@mr_rodgers_the_shihtzuInstagramInstagram account featuring a cute and lovable Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu Traits and Care

When it comes to the Shih Tzu, it’s not just their majestic history that’s impressive – it’s also their unique traits and the special care they require. From their distinct appearance to their loving temperament, there’s a lot to uncover about these adorable lap dogs. But with great cuteness comes great responsibility, as their luxurious coat requires diligent grooming to keep it healthy and beautiful. Let’s dive into the world of Shih Tzu traits and care, where we’ll explore everything from their appearance to their overall health.

Appearance and Temperament

The appearance of the Shih Tzu is what makes it such a beloved lap dog. Its stunning coat is long and flowing, giving it a regal look that harkens back to its royal roots. The coat itself can come in a variety of colors, including white, black, gold, and brown. This means that there is a Shih Tzu out there for everyone!

But it’s not just their physical appearance that makes them so special. Shih Tzus have an incredibly friendly and loving temperament. They are known for being loyal and affectionate to their owners, and often consider themselves to be lap dogs even when they have far outgrown that title.

Another important trait of the Shih Tzu is their intelligence. They are quick learners and have a great memory, making them an easy breed to train. They are also quite adaptable and can be happy living in both small apartments and larger homes.

One thing to keep in mind with Shih Tzus is that they can be prone to separation anxiety. These dogs crave affection and attention from their families and can become very attached. This means that they may not be the best choice for those who have to leave their pets alone for long periods of time.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that no two Shih Tzus are alike. While they share many common traits, each dog has its own unique personality and preferences. Some may be more energetic and playful, while others may prefer a more relaxed lifestyle. It’s important to get to know your Shih Tzu and their individual needs in order to provide them with a happy and healthy home.

Health and Grooming

One of the reasons why the Shih Tzu is a beloved breed is because of its adorable appearance. However, taking care of their fluffy coat requires some effort. It is important to regularly groom your Shih Tzu to maintain their health and appearance.

Grooming: Shih Tzus are known for their long, flowing coats that can easily tangle and mat. To keep their coat healthy and shiny, it is recommended to brush them at least once a day using a soft bristle brush. In addition to brushing, regular bathing is important to keep their coat clean and free of tangles. However, it is important to not over-bathe them as this can strip their skin and coat of natural oils.

Trimming: It is also recommended to trim their hair every 4-6 weeks to prevent mats and tangles. Professional groomers can help with this task, or you can learn to do it yourself with the proper tools and techniques.

Eye and Ear Care: Shih Tzus are prone to eye infections due to their flat face and hair around their eyes. It is important to clean their eyes daily with a damp cloth to prevent eye infections. Additionally, their floppy ears can trap moisture and lead to ear infections. Clean their ears once a week with a solution recommended by your veterinarian.

Dental Care: Regular dental care is important for Shih Tzus as they are prone to dental issues. Brush their teeth at least 2-3 times a week with a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste specifically designed for dogs.

Health Concerns: While the Shih Tzu is generally a healthy breed, they are prone to some health issues such as hip dysplasia, skin allergies, and eye problems. It is important to keep up-to-date with their vaccinations and have regular check-ups with your veterinarian to catch any potential issues early on.

Taking care of your Shih Tzu’s grooming and health needs may require some effort, but the love and affection they provide in return is worth it.


As we conclude this fascinating journey through the ancient Chinese history of the Shih Tzu, one thing is clear – this majestic lap dog held immense significance in the royal courts of China. From being bred as companions for emperors to their role as symbols of royalty, Shih Tzus have played an important part in Chinese culture and mythology.

Despite their Royal origins, Shih Tzus have become popular across the world due to their small size, cute looks, and affectionate nature. Their unique characteristics and qualities have earned them a spot in popular culture and made them a beloved pet among people of all ages.

However, the Shih Tzu’s popularity should not overshadow the fact that these dogs require proper care and attention. Owners must ensure that their furry companions are well-groomed, healthy, and receive the appropriate training to prevent any behavioral issues.

All in all, the ancient Chinese history of the Shih Tzu is a story of royalty, companionship, and loyalty. We can’t help but be enamored by their incredible backstory and their endearing personalities. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or just a dog lover, the Shih Tzu is a breed that has a special place in our hearts.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history of the Shih Tzu breed?

The Shih Tzu breed originated in ancient China, and was highly favored by royalty and aristocrats.

Were Shih Tzus always lap dogs?

Yes, Shih Tzus were bred specifically to be lap dogs, serving as companions and symbols of wealth and status.

What role did Shih Tzus play in ancient Chinese culture?

Shih Tzus were highly revered in ancient Chinese culture and were believed to bring good fortune, protection, and ward off evil spirits.

What is the meaning of the name Shih Tzu?

The name Shih Tzu translates to “lion dog” in Chinese, as their appearance resembles that of a lion.

Do Shih Tzus shed a lot?

Shih Tzus have hair rather than fur, which means they shed less than other breeds. However, they still require regular grooming to prevent matting and tangling.

What is the lifespan of a Shih Tzu?

On average, Shih Tzus live between 10-16 years.

Are Shih Tzus prone to any health issues?

Yes, Shih Tzus are known to have issues with their eyes, ears, and respiratory system. Regular checkups with a veterinarian are important for maintaining their health.

Are Shih Tzus good with children?

Yes, Shih Tzus are generally good with children and make great family pets due to their affectionate and playful nature.

Do Shih Tzus require a lot of exercise?

No, Shih Tzus do not require a lot of exercise and are well-suited for apartment living. Short walks and indoor playtime are usually enough to keep them happy and healthy.

Can Shih Tzus be trained easily?

Shih Tzus can be trained, but they can also be stubborn and difficult to train if not properly motivated. Positive reinforcement and consistency are key to successful training.


Matthew Farthing

Matthew Farthing

Сontributing author at DogCareHacks, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.

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